EP 184: The Major Tax Change Coming to Alimony in December

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Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.

In this episode, we’re talking about a major tax change to alimony coming in December. And I wanna go through what’s happening, what you need to know, and how you need to plan for it. And why this could apply to your divorce if you are thinking about getting divorced this year. So at the end of 2017, the Tax Cuts and Job Act passed. This was right at the very end of last year. And there were a lot of different tax changes that occurred to many people. This was one of the biggest tax bills that passed. But, there was a small provision in there that affects alimony. And this small provision can affect many of you in a big way. And so what happens is that certain tax benefits in divorce are being eliminated effective December 31st, 2018. And this is the biggest change in alimony in about 75 years or so. And many people have forgotten about it.

As it is today … Or actually, I’m gonna tell you what’s happening. What is going to happen is from a tax perspective, alimony is going to be treated exactly the same way that child support is. What does that mean? It means a person who pays alimony will not get any tax benefits for paying alimony. And the person who receives alimony will not have to claim that alimony as income starting next year. Now, that is what happens on January 1 of 2019. What happens today? Well, if you get divorced during 2018, there are some important things that happen from a tax perspective. If you are the person paying alimony, and I know many of my listeners are the ones who are going to be paying, then you get to deduct that money from your taxes each year. So, if your income … And I’m gonna give you an example in just a moment. And conversely, if you are the person receiving alimony, you have to when you file your taxes each year say, “I’ve got X amount in alimony.” And you have to pay taxes on that amount just like it is income.

Now, here’s why this is a big deal. And I wish more people were talking about this. The big effect of this is that there is less incentive for someone to pay alimony. And I’m going to give you some examples so we can work with some easy to understand numbers. Let’s say someone is going to be paying $10,000 or a little under $10,000 a month. But, we’re gonna say $100,000 a year in alimony over a 12 month period. So over one year, they’re going to be paying over $8,000 and some a month in alimony. I’m using $100,000 total just to make the numbers very simple. So, someone’s paying $100,000 in alimony. That means that person can deduct from their taxes $100,000 in income. Which means they have a substantial tax savings on their income each year. ‘Cause they don’t have to pay taxes on $100,000 of their income. It’s a simplified explanation. And the reason that’s beneficial for them is when they are in a divorce situation, that gives them an incentive to pay some of that alimony instead of purpose structuring a settlement in a different way.

But, here’s what happens starting January 1 of 2019. That same person who was paying $100,000 in alimony will not get that tax benefit anymore. And so, if they were going to think about what their divorce settlement looks like, that person does not get any tax benefit for paying that $100,000 a year. And now this is only if … And I should bring up a very important caveat. It depends on when your divorce decree is signed. If you sign your divorce decree this year, then you will still get the tax benefits if you are the person paying alimony.

And if you sign the divorce decree starting January 1 of 2019 or anytime beyond that is when the law changes. And the tax rules change. And so that same person who was paying $100,000, or who was willing to pay $100,000 a year in alimony, may no longer be willing to make that same commitment. Because they don’t get any tax benefits for paying that alimony amount. Now, it could be depending upon who’s listening. Some of you, we could be talking about $10,000 a year. Others of you, we could be talking about $100,000 a year or a million dollars a year. I have a wide range of listeners in terms of the incomes that you all have. But, regardless of your income, it will affect most of you in one way or another.

Now, here’s the reason this is extra important. So, basically what happens is the person who would be paying alimony will at least try to pay less alimony in the future. The reason that’s unfortunate is according to the census, 97 percent of the people receiving alimony are women. And so, that will disproportionately affect many of the people listening who are facing or who would, in theory, be getting alimony. Now, it doesn’t mean you should panic. It doesn’t mean that you’re screwed, or you should get upset and worry, or whatever else. There are many ways around this issue and ways to still get to a good position. And I’ll get into some of those. But, you should be aware that things are changing. And things are changing in a big way. And you need to be cognizant of the change.

And one of the things that’s very important about this is timing. And this is why we’re putting this episode now in August. Because there are only a few months left in the year. And so, if you are facing divorce and you’re in a place where … Maybe you’re in the middle of divorce. Or you’re in a position where you think you can get this wrapped up before the end of the year. Then this is something that you should consider, because it can help with the negotiating process. If you’re already in the middle of the process, great. Now, if you haven’t filed for divorce yet … I’m never one to even endorse divorce, but this is one of those times where you need to decide and think hard. Is now the time to file divorce and get this process going? Because I think I may be better off given what’s happening with the alimony rules.

And I’m gonna look at this from both side’s perspective in a little bit greater detail so you really understand the consequences and what we’re getting to. And the reason when you hear this episode this is particularly important is we’re in August as I record this. Some of you may be listening to this later down the line. But, many states have some version of a cooling off period when it comes to divorce. And what that means is from the moment you file divorce to the soonest your divorce can be over, depending upon where you live, can be two or three months in some cases. Because that’s what the state requires. So, some states will say, “All right. Well even if you agree to 100 percent of the issues in your divorce, it’ll take you 90 days before we’ll sign off on a divorce. Because that’s what the law says.” Or some states, it might be 60 days. Or other states, it may be 30 days. I actually have a blog post if you type in quickie divorce. There’s only a handful of states where it actually can happen reasonably fast.

But, given that we’re in August, some of you August, September, will be the last chance you have if you are in the position to take advantage of these issues. Now, if your divorce process is already commencing. Some of you, it’s been going on for many months. Some of you many years. Well, you’re actually okay. The real goal would be in your perspective, in most cases, will be to wrap it up before the end of the year to benefit from these … before the tax law changes.
And why all of a sudden this big tax change? Why did this happen? Well, the simple answer is actually a lot of people were cheating on their taxes. Not saying a lot of you were. But, what happened was there was a multi-billion dollar gap every year according to the IRS records of people who were paying for divorce … Or I’m sorry. So, there was a multi-billion dollar gap. So, billions of dollars people were reporting that they were paying in alimony. But, a lot of people weren’t saying they were receiving alimony. And therefore, could hide or not have to pay taxes on that money. So the IRS said, as part of the tax bill, that we’re gonna change the law. And so, no one’s going to get a tax break. And therefore, no one can cheat on alimony.

And so, what I wanna do in this episode …. It’s gonna be a little bit longer than the normal ones. But, I wanna go through the scenarios depending upon who you are. And just some things to think about. All of this is complicated. It just is. And it depends on your individual circumstances which decision is best for you. There’s no universal right or wrong. Ultimately you should be consulting with maybe an accountant, maybe your attorney, maybe with me. And we can think through what makes the most sense for you if you have these options on the table.

So, I’m gonna start with the person who is paying alimony. If you were the person paying alimony, or will be paying alimony as part of the divorce process, or spousal support or maintenance. It just depends on what state you live in what they call it. It is in your best interest from a tax perspective to wrap up the divorce before the end of the year. Because every dollar you pay in alimony for now and forever in the future, barring some sort of major unexpected tax change, you get a tax benefit for paying alimony. Simple as that. You’ll pay less in taxes at the end of each year if you pay alimony. I’ll give you a very simple example. If you’re paying $1,000 a month in alimony, you get at the end of the year $12,000 deduction in your taxes. Now, if you don’t finalize your divorce until sometime in 2019 or beyond, you no longer get that benefit. So for most of the people who are paying alimony, this might be a good reason to start that process.

Now, if you’re the person receiving alimony, or will be receiving alimony. I know that one of my most popular videos with many, many thousands of views is on stay-at-home moms and divorce advice for stay-at-home moms, which is one of the most common populations that I work with and people I get to help. And now some of you, I know from talking to you, might be panicked at this point. But as I said before, don’t panic. The situation’s actually more complicated if you’re the person receiving alimony. I’m going to go through a few scenarios. A few things and notes for you to think about.

Now, if you’re negotiating … Let’s just give you an example. Let’s say you’re negotiating or thinking about getting about $2,000 a month in spousal support as part of the divorce settlement. And you think you’re gonna get this down in 2018. But for whatever reason, your divorce isn’t finalized this year. And you’re gonna be looking at 2019. Well actually if you still get $2,000 a month in 2019, you’re in a better position. Because you don’t have to pay income tax on that $2,000 a month you would have received. You’re better off than you were before. If you get that same amount in pure dollar terms. Hope that makes sense. So, if you get divorced in 2018 and you get $2,000 a month, what happens is you’re gonna be paying on income tax on what’s going to be $24,000 a year. But, if you were in theory to get the same $2,000 next year in 2019 or beyond, you don’t have to pay income tax on that. And therefore, you get to keep all of it. That’s a plus.

But, there’s a downside. Let’s say if you were thinking about or you were probably gonna get $2,000 a month in spousal support this year. Well if your spouse is savvy or your spouse has a decent attorney, they’ll say, “Well, hey. I don’t get that tax break anymore for it. And you’re actually gonna get less. So, we’re gonna make some adjustments in terms of what we pay. And maybe we’re only going to pay you $1,500 a month instead of $2,000 a month.” That could be substantial. Or whatever the equivalent is for them. But, that is something that will certainly happen in the divorce scenario for some people who understand the way that this calculation works.

Now as I always said, there is a way around it. There are always clever ways to structure your divorce settlement. And I speak with you almost everyday about certain avenues you might not have thought about. But, one of them is a lump sum distribution. I’ve talked about this on the podcast before. If you haven’t gotten the archives, you should definitely check that out. There is the ability to get as much money up front. And therefore, you won’t have the tax consequences at all. Or they’ll be substantially reduced. And you can ultimately, now it’s a tricky calculation, but you can ultimately get to the same place you would’ve gotten all at once instead of doing it over months and over years. Now, you have to go back and listen to the lump sum distribution podcast episode, which is in the store, to understand all the mechanics of that. But is a very good solution, one of several, that could work for you.

So tax law or not, depending on your situation, you could still end up in the exact same place you would have if you structure things the right way. Ultimately, this is a complicated issue. I just wanna bring it up and make you aware of it. There are state laws you have to deal with. There are tax laws you’re gonna have to deal with. There’s just the divorce process you’re gonna have to deal with. Certain states are considering different measures to counteract these changes.

And ultimately, if I were to say anything, you need to bring these up with your attorney. Bring these up with me. Bring these up with your accountant. If you don’t have an accountant, this would be a good time to pay for a one-off consultation with an accountant. It’s interesting. Definitely bring it up with whoever you are working with. I know some very expensive and otherwise very good attorneys who have not said a word about this. Or who were less informed. Or have not brought it up with their clients. It’s not because they are bad attorneys. They just have other things going on. One of the things you need to do is bring it up and take charge yourself.

I also know some great attorneys who have called all their clients and are saying, “Hey, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s what we’re thinking about. Here’s the tax law change. Here’s how it could affect you. Here’s how I recommend we proceed to either get this done or delay it.” It really just depends on your individual case. But, one way or another if you have not had this conversation with your attorney, I strongly suggest that you have it. And also, feel free to reach out to me. Book a coaching call and we can walk through your scenario in a half hour or so. And get the important details with you.

Just some last messages. I wanna reiterate multiple times during this episode, is it’s not the end of the world if you don’t wrap things up this year. And for some of you, it’s just not going to be feasible to wrap up your divorce this year. You might not have started in the process. Maybe you’re still gathering information. Or any number. It’s not right for your family, or for your life, or for any number of things. And you’re still doing your research. It’s okay. You will come out through the other side. I’ll still be here next year. And we’ll still be coming up with good solutions to help you. And interesting and useful information.

But, if you think there’s a benefit for you and your scenario to get things done this year, this is a … We’re kind of at crunch time. And this is a good time to really start getting the ball rolling. And making the important solutions and decisions that you need to be making. So, you end up in the best place possible for the long term.

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